Mainstream Books with Trans Characters: Comic Romps

Mainstream Books with Trans Characters: Comic Romps

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These reviews were published on TGForum in 1997. They were written by Elizabeth Parker who wrote a regular column for us called Book Chat.

We’re going to turn our attention this month to one of my favorite forms of fiction, what I call the comic romp. Unfortunately, a bad comic romp is the one most commonly found. But when the rare gem is encountered it is cause for high celebration. And when that good romp also features the use of transgender characters, I assure you I stay up all night or miss work to complete the book

What do I mean by a comic romp? It is usually found in thrillers and mysteries, and some science fiction (in science fiction, the space opera is a good example). The characters, both heroes and villains are not too menacing. They may be bumbling. The action is nonstop, and often a lot of territory is covered. Believability is not the primary goal of the story, though the better ones do not stretch it too much. In other words, it is just a fun story, which moves fast, has enjoyable characters on both sides of the law, and utilizes lots of novel plot devices to move the story along.

The first book is Cosi Fan Tutti, by Michael Dibdin. Dibdin is the same author who wrote Cabal, reviewed here in June. He gives us more transgender material in his latest outing.

If the name “Cosi Fan Tutti” sounds familiar to you, it is probably because you are a fan of opera. “Cosi Fan Tutti” is the name of Mozart and Lorenzo Daponte’s comic opera of the same name. As you may or may not know, that opera is one of the classic stories of multiple mistaken identities. Without checking, I don’t believe it contains crossdressing though, unlike many other operas of the same type. Never fear though, Dibdin gives it his own unique twist.

Aurelio Zen is back, this time posted to the Naples harbor police as a banishment for a wrongful arrest. He just tries to blend into the background of the Naples scenery and stay out of trouble. Nevertheless Zen manages to create trouble all by himself, by posing as someone he’s not to a beautiful widow. To impress her, he arranges for her marriageable daughters to travel to London and for a pair of prostitutes to be dangled before their mobster boyfriends. The plot goes crazy at this point, and Dibdin fits the action within the framework of the opera beautifully.

Believe it or not, I’m not going to spoil this book for you. There is some great crossdressing and you will need to look for it. By the end of the book, you will discover that practically everyone in the book is in disguise, in one form or another.

The second book this month is “Romanesque”, by Ralph McInery. I’ll apologize right now, as this book has been out of print for some time. But it will be worth your while to find it in your local library or used bookstore. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that no one has listed this book as it has been around for awhile, and McInery is a very popular author.

No, this isn’t a Father Dowling mystery. It is a brief departure for McInery, who creates a nice, bumbling hero in Jim Dancy, a bookish renaissance history scholar. He accepts a too-good-to-be-true job offer in Rome, researching ancient manuscripts. Immediately upon arrival he is swept up in many strange events and meets many unique people, including a beautiful girl, Polly, and his hotel neighbor, an exotic redhead. The plot is too complicated to detail here, but the redhead turns out to be a crossdressing CIA agent. Apparently the agent works in drag pretty much all of the time, as he possesses few male clothes. But that is not the best part of the book! Soon Dancy finds himself on the run, and he invades the agent’s room for a disguise. Now he starts off the story fully bearded so this is quite a change of pace for our hero. But he makes the best of it and goes on the limp (the shoes don’t fit). He holes up at Polly’s apartment and she seems to find his disguise exciting. He gets into drag several more times, and must deal with amorous Italian men and boys during his excursions.

As a bonus, let me remind you of the classic comic romp of all time, which longtime TG fiction fans will immediately recognize. Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer, is historical fiction set in Regency England. The main characters are a brother and sister who each dress as the opposite sex to escape retaliation for aiding the wrong side in one of the many wars prevalent in England at that time. The sister is more handsome than pretty, and makes a fine strapping fellow. The brother is built delicately, and is a consummate actor. He fits his role well, and seems to enjoy it. He does enjoy women, and is also a fine fighter. They make quite a splash on the London social scene, and enjoy themselves immensely while biding time waiting for their rogue of a father to appear on the scene. This is a book where the crossdressing is front and center for most of the book.

The reviewed books are available from Amazon.


Dibdin, Michael, “Cosi Fan Tutti“, Pantheon Group, May 1 1997, ISBN: 0679442723

Heyer, Georgette, “Masqueraders”, Fawcett Books, January 1979, ISBN: 0449232530

Heyer, Georgette, “Masqueraders“, Amereon Ltd., October 1983, ISBN: 0891907823

Heyer, Georgette, “Masqueraders”, Bantam Books, September 1985, ISBN: 0553253816

McInery, Ralph, “Romanesque“, Harpercollins, May 1978, ISBN: 0060129662

McInery, Ralph, “Romanesque”, St. Martins Press, April 1979, ISBN: 0876631340

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Category: Product Review


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